Magic Mushrooms

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Love them or (maybe) hate them, mushrooms have been renowned for centuries around the world for their flavor, beauty and health benefits. In Asia, varieties like reishi and maitake are valued for their contribution to longevity, while in the Occidental West, Morels, Truffles and even the lowly Crimini are being touted for everything from blood pressure cures or anti-cancer wonder foods. While some finicky eaters may complain about the flavor or, more likely, the texture of mushrooms, with proper preparation even strongly flavored mushrooms can be added to familiar dishes, and become a staple of the home pantry.

Some unfamiliar mushrooms can cause intestinal distress upon first encounter, so it is usually wise to introduce them into diet slowly. In addition, making sure they are well cooked, can minimize the negative impacts on digestion, and often wild-mushrooms should be par-boiled before use.

One signature dish I have used for years to introduce people to Morel mushrooms is a simple Linguini with Morel Cream Sauce. It is always served to rave reviews, and in fact I have had friends tell me they actually dream about this dish in springtime, when the mushroom hunting season begins.

To begin this dish I start with about one pound of very fresh morels, which have been soaked in water to remove any forest duff or six-legged guests. These are drained and sliced into bite sized pieces. Along with one or two medium sized shallots, sliced into a thin julienne. The shallots are sauteed in butter until translucent, then the mushrooms added and cooked until they begin to crisp and all liquid is reduced in the pan. Add two tablespoons of dry sherry and reduce again. Then add two cups of heavy cream. Let the whole sauce reduce over a very low simmer until the thickness can coat the back of a clean spoon, then finish with salt, a pinch of white pepper, and another small pinch of nutmeg. Serve over any favorite prepared pasta.

The long caramelization of shallot and mushroom in this dish contribute a deep earthy flavor, and the texture of the small morel pieces, please even avowed mushroom haters.

Often, individuals who dislike mushrooms at first offer, can be won over by simply sauteeing any mushrooms in butter and garlic until crispy and served over steaks or added to sauces. The crispness and garlicky goodness overcoming previous experiences of soggy, bland mushroom dishes. Otherwise, a long marinade in any vinaigrette before cooking, can improve the flavor enough to win over the haters.

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